NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020-21 NHL season continues with Thursday’s matchup between the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Tampa Bay Lightning. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.
In the NHL, you don’t see a lot of situations along the lines of James Harden forcing his way out of Houston in just about the least nuanced way possible. Usually, you barely hear a rumbling about a high-profile player wanting out. So, by the standards of headline-averse NHL GMs, it’s already surprising just how public the Pierre-Luc Dubois trade situation became for the Blue Jackets.
While we don’t know why Dubois wants the Blue Jackets to trade him, John Tortorella hasn’t been shy about confirming those rumors.
It’s all shocking because a) Dubois signed an extension with the Blue Jackets and b) players of his caliber, especially at his age (22), rarely become available in the NHL trade market. Now, this doesn’t mean that the Blue Jackets are itching to trade Dubois immediately. GM Jarmo Kekalainen is known as one of the NHL’s cagiest executives. But it sure seems like something has to happen, and for all we know, a trade could happen soon.
Until something happens, we must wait and speculate. So why don’t we?
Door 1: The … Blue Jackets?
Again, it’s no secret that Dubois wants out from the Blue Jackets. And maybe it’s something we’ll only hear murmurs about, like Chris Pronger’s abrupt departure from Edmonton.
But what if it’s simply a matter of Dubois wanting a trade to get away from the coach the Blue Jackets have stuck with? It’s fair to wonder if Torts was as much a repellant for, say, Artemi Panarin, as the New York market was a draw. (This is hockey, so we’ll rarely hear anyone come out and say it.)
After all, Torts isn’t denying his abrasive side, including in how he deals with the young center.
” … He has been honest with the group,” Tortorella told 97.1 The Fan. “I wish he was a little bit more honest as far as reasons why. Still haven’t really gotten to that, but I think he needs to speak on that. I won’t.”
I’m sorry, but Tortorella wondering why Dubois wants to be traded from the Blue Jackets feels almost like Torts is begging people to break out the “I Think You Should Leave” hot dog guy meme.
So … let’s say, hypothetically, it’s all about Torts. You know, the guy always barking at Dubois.
Well, Tortorella’s current contract appears to run out after this season. What if Kekalainen speaks with Dubois, realizes it’s instead a Torts-or-trade situation, and *gulp* chooses the 22-year-old center carrying an affordable $5M cap hit through next season?
It’s easy to paint Tortorella as a Rembrandt of a coach because of the Blue Jackets’ scrappy underdog work. But what if a coach drives out star players, thus dooming his team to being perpetual underdogs?
If it’s really all about Tortorella, then the Blue Jackets should ask themselves some tough questions before trading Dubois. Most of the time, the team that trades the budding 22-year-old star player tends to lose that trade. Badly.
Especially when everyone knows that the star player wants out.
Door 2: Patrik Laine/Jets and other “trade your problem” Dubois possibilities
The Blue Jackets keeping Dubois would probably be the biggest win for Columbus. (Although Tortorella would not go quietly.)
But for fans of the sport? A high-profile player-for-player trade would force us to gather a potentially ruinous amount of popcorn.
The most buttery hypothetical would involve the Blue Jackets sending Dubois to the Winnipeg Jets in a one-for-one trade involving Patrik Laine. In one trade, you’d move two prominent players who seem to want out. (Amusingly, Laine, the second pick of the 2016 NHL Draft, would be traded for the player who went third overall.)
Chances are, there’d be some serious drawbacks to trading problems, whether the trade involved Dubois for Laine, or perhaps someone like Johnny Gaudreau of the Flames. But it would make for some serious fun for fans, and blogs.
Door 3: An unexpected contender?
In his latest 31 Thoughts column, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman pondered contenders like the Avalanche or Lightning getting involved in the Dubois trade market.
You can probably categorize choices as:
• Best for Blue Jackets: Probably keeping Dubois, though a trade feels almost inevitable.
• Best for hockey fans: A Dubois-for-Laine type blockbuster trade.
• Must mention, difficult to categorize: A splashy Montreal Canadiens swap.
• Best for Dubois: Maybe landing with a contender like the Avs or Lightning?
While the idea is staggering at first, it’s fairly workable — at least on paper. Dubois’ $5M cap hit makes him pretty easy to move.
Such ideas would hinge on the Blue Jackets’ side. For one thing, most indications are that Columbus would want immediate help in a Dubois trade, rather than futures. Teams like the Avalanche or Lightning might present better value if they mortgaged their futures, much like the Brooklyn Nets and other NBA contenders did.
Now, if the Blue Jackets stink this year? Maybe they’d even take on a bad contract to enrich their take even more. Perhaps Kekalainen could even stomach eating some of Dubois’ salary to fatten up a trade return?
Overall, it sounds like a difficult needle to thread, but maybe an interesting one.
Door 4: A step back now for an interesting future?
In Pierre LeBrun’s take on possible Dubois landing spots at The Athletic (sub required), rebuilding teams like the Kings and Ducks received a mention. On face value, that might not appeal to a fiery competitor like Dubois. Not a lot of quality players want to wait to take a big swing at glory.
Then again, there could be benefits. Maybe Dubois would picture the nasty, skilled, sizable centers the Kings could line up with Anze Kopitar and Quinton Byfield already available. Playing in sunny California might be a huge draw if Dubois’ trade demands boil down to location rather than, um, not liking his boss.
When it comes to contenders, one concern might be taking less than a 1C role. Consider how the Lightning have the almost-comical luxury of using Mikhail Sergachev pretty sparingly.
With a team like the Kings or Ducks, he’d likely hold a prominent role, and maybe in a situation that would make him happier.
Of course, the most important factor would be the Blue Jackets’ takeaway, as Dubois doesn’t own a no-trade clause. Rebuilding teams could dangle an interesting mix of prospects and picks to the Blue Jackets in a potential Dubois trade, too.
No easy answers for Columbus
While the Blue Jackets might wiggle their way out of this one, it could also easily be a no-win situation. Things could fester if a trade doesn’t formulate. The Blue Jackets could trade for a good player who would want out too, or get stuck with a big downgrade. Picks or prospects could disappoint. It’s not an easy situation to be in.
But the Blue Jackets’ loss could be the gain for other hockey fans. As they face the Lightning, feel free to picture Dubois on your team. For all we know, it might just happen.